We all know that filing lawsuits in the United States are commonplace. Whether it’s a small claims matter like we see on daytime television, or a complex class action we see in blockbuster cinema, the act of bringing a lawsuit is not all that complicated if certain elements are met. Our court system provides for a plethora of avenues for victims to recover their damages in any number of circumstances. These “avenues” are called “causes of action.”
For example, if you enter into a contract with someone who fails to do as promised, your recourse would be to sue under the cause of action “breach of contract”. If you are injured in a car accident due to another driver’s reckless driving, you could sue under the cause of action “negligence.” There are many causes of action under the law that victims can utilize to bring lawsuits.
But the tort laws in Florida broaden the definition of “victim,” allowing more than one affected party to sue for damages originating from the same accident. For example, if a man is injured in a car accident due to the fault of another, not only does the law allow for him to bring a lawsuit against the wrongdoer, but also the injured man’s spouse and dependent child(ren) can bring a lawsuit against the wrongdoer under the “loss of consortium” cause of action (even if the spouse and dependent child(ren) were not parties to the accident).
The law allows for this because often when a loved one is harmed, the whole family is harmed. An injured father may lose his ability to provide the same level of comfort and companionship to his child. Marital discord may arise from an injured husband’s inability to provide the same level of affection to his wife.
Regarding dependents bringing lawsuits for loss of consortium, Florida Statute 768.0415 states, “a person who, through negligence, causes significant permanent injury to the natural or adoptive parent of an unmarried dependent resulting in a permanent total disability shall be liable to the dependent for damages, including damages for permanent loss of services, comfort, companionship, and society.” Therefore, Florida recognizes, unlike other state jurisdictions like California, that children can indeed be victimized, albeit indirectly, when their parent is injured in an accident due to the negligence of a third party.
For spouses seeking relief under the loss of consortium cause of action, a spouse must claim a loss of companionship and fellowship of his/her partner. While the law does in fact take into account the loss of sexual relations, “consortium” means much more than that. According to Florida case law, it also consists of “affection, solace, comfort, companionship, conjugal life, fellowship, society and assistance so necessary to a successful marriage.” See Gates v. Foley, 247 So.2d 40, 43 (Fla.1971) (citing Lithgow v. Hamilton, 69 So.2d 776 (Fla.1954)).
In order for a spouse to be awarded monetary damages under the loss of consortium theory, he/she must present substantial, undisputed evidence concerning such losses. One 2011 Florida case titled, Peterson v. Sun State International Trucks, for example, found the following facts sufficient to award the spouse damages: an injured motorist filed a lawsuit and her husband joined her seeking relief under the loss of consortium cause of action. The court found the evidence presented by the husband to be sufficient to grant him an award for loss of consortium. Particularly, the husband claimed: i) his wife’s level of activity decreased after the accident; ii) he was forced to do household chores that his wife normally did; iii) his wife had to quit her job because she was no longer able to do the work; iv) his wife became more short tempered with him and she began to pull away from him emotionally; v) his wife traveled with him less to family gatherings; and vi) sexual relations became more infrequent. The court found these undisputed facts to show that the marriage between the husband and wife had deteriorated, and therefore substantial enough to entitle the husband to an award for loss of consortium.